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Laura Heywood blog: learning from the digital experts

Published:  19 November, 2012

Over the past few months Harpers has had its finger on the pulse of the digital revolution and how it's transforming the retailing world.


Over the past few months Harpers has had its finger on the pulse of the digital revolution and how it's transforming the retailing world.

Reporting from the IGD's main retail conference of the year and the following IGD Trading in a Digital World conference, we've heard from the major grocery chiefs about how the digital channel is changing the game for suppliers, manufacturers and brand owners.

Coca-Cola Enterprises is one such brand owner that has been at the forefront of the revolution, using enhanced digital communications to get as close as it possibly can to understanding, and influencing, individual consumers' needs.

As a leading brand in the soft drinks marketplace, Coca-Cola has stepped up its content creation to optimise consumer participation online - and with 50 million Facebook fans it certainly appears to have worked.

"Nowadays two-thirds of grocery decisions are taken before getting to the store. In the old world we would wait for big brand activity, we would really focus on POS activity and making the brands visible. Those days are gone," said Mark Elkins, commercial director digital at Coca-Cola, speaking at the IGD's Digital Trading conference.

For Elkins, key to Coca-Cola's success has been adopting a "test and learn approach with pilots". For example, he said, eye-tracking research has helped the company find out "most shoppers are scanning the imagery of a website".

"People are hoping down the left-hand side of the page where the images are," Elkins explained. Therefore, he said, it was vital the company made its product images better online. For example, having a picture of a bulk pack was not grabbing shoppers' attention, whereas a picture of a bulk pack with one can pulled out was better at illustrating the size of the product and persuading them to buy.

Elkins called on manufacturers to work together on this issue and create an industry norm when it comes to pack illustrations online. "We'd like to get everyone to innovate in this area," he said. "We're playing around with the images, titles of products and descriptions - it's about fixing some of the basic to make online shopping easier for our shoppers."

He urged delegates to use the online channel to test and learn, and make online shopping more engaging. After all, he said, "the online shopper has got a different kind of profile" to a consumer shopping in store. "They tend to be family, more female, very health conscious and the time of year [for shopping peaks] is also different," he said. "For soft drinks, online people are recruited to the category in January and February, and July is a dip. Christmas starts very early in November, whereas in store it's December. They're buying soft drinks to save time and get value for money. This led us to believe we really need to have much more tailored plans online."

According to Elkins, "bundle deals have a great future online". "We're not convinced brand-centric solutions work that well online or in store. We're getting to the conclusion it's got to be much more retailer led and occasion based," he said.

For other brand owners, he had this advice: "Think about events and stay relevant. There's also a trend towards gamification - create mobile games where winners get redeemable offers. With our simple Pop the Bubbles game, the average person played this game on average three times so we were driving traffic to store and it was very relevant. We will continue to test and learn and find best ways to drive purchase."

In the digital trading world, the rulebook to win is very different and still being created, he emphasised. "In online, the rules are different. I couldn't make that any clearer and the rules are still being written."

Elkins closed with a call to retailers to work more collaboratively with brand owners. "My plea is to retailers to be open about sharing data about what works. Make clickstream data available," he urged.

"It's important to get hold of some of the data from the retailers and use it to see what drives sales. Integrate online with your commercial plans. By integrating the two you will get best value for money. Start with shopper behaviour. What's going to create sales growth? Having relevant brand content is key. There's a host of apps I would encourage you to look at."

For Elkins, the message is plain and simple - adopt a digital strategy now or risk being left behind.